I offer this advice to recent university graduates. The final months of university and first few months after academic life winds to an end are intense. You learn a lot and you find yourself adapting and trying to filter through the mounds of advice you’ve received. As you strive to pave a path to success, it’s a challenging time when new habits are formed and some old ones are obliterated. One area that doesn’t get nearly enough attention is your casual reading and information consumption habit.
Quite often it’s easy to assume that as long as we glance at USA Today or MSN News once or twice a week we’ll become highly informed and engaged global citizens. Unfortunately, this isn’t quite the case. I recently came across a study which highlighted the publications that are read in different parts of the United States. You know what it showed? That the people in the more successful parts of the nation were reading publications which were vastly different than those in the less successful regions. This is incredibly important because it stresses the powerful influence of what we read and consume to shape who we are, who we interact with, who we engage with, and the opportunity to enhance our success.
If you expect to engage with people who are active, driven, motivated and successful then you need to be able to carry on a conversation with them – a conversation that understands their area of expertise and passion, that can relate to global events, and which allows you to speak coherently about the world at large both as it exists today, will exist in the future, and existed in the past. In short, social and professional success, both domestic and abroad, is based heavily on your transition to becoming a literate global citizen. To a certain degree this is what your university or masters program set out to help you with. You had to take those general studies courses for a reason! Unfortunately, while these may have laid a solid foundation, in many instances they lacked connection to current events, context, or scope.
The real problem is that unless you find a great mentor or spend hours and hours chasing down less-common publications, it is extremely difficult to build a credible list of publications worth reading on a regular basis. After all, what is credible? What is insightful? What is globally relevant? For many the extent of our dive into news, events and commentary pieces revolves around whatever our parents consumed or was readily available. If they read Fox News, we read Fox News. If they read USA Today, so did we. Many of us decided to avoid reading newspapers and to focus on other areas of interest. These are a few suggestions that have served me well.
Arm Yourself To Succeed
- Understand that there is a large difference between globally-minded publications and nation-specific publications. Also, that different editions of a news source tend to offer different types of news based on readership. It is also important that you understand that US-based media in general is significantly more conservative than global media, with conservative media in the US highlighting a heavily edited and specialized view of global events and news.
- Keep in mind that front page news is usually not the most relevant, useful or even accurate. The things that get the front page headlines are good for a casual conversation over a beer. It’s the other material, however, that will give you the tools you need to succeed in engaged conversation and to chart your path accurately through life.
- Read article titles and learn how to evaluate them. While they say ‘don’t judge a book (or article) by its cover’, sometimes it is necessary to avoid getting inundated. Once you establish a familiarity with various news sources and current events, you’ll find it much easier to make an executive decision on which articles to skim, which articles to read in-depth, and which articles to skip.
- Don’t be afraid of longer articles. A lot of the best publications out there offer short AND long form material. The longer material often offers the depth and context which can be incredibly helpful and necessary when understanding policy or economic issues.
- Don’t focus in one specific area. You may be an aerospace engineer, but you should also be reading about news in all other genres and areas of study.
The Reading List
In no particular order…
- Foreign Affairs - Excellent commentary and analysis from a variety of perspectives about the global marketplace.
- Stratfor – Some of the best and most insightful global issue briefs out there. Sign up for the free intelligence reports. The rest of the content is amazing but too expensive for most of us.
- Foreign Policy – This publication offers wonderful insights into global, political, military, and economic issues.
- Financial Times – Excellent financial reporting. Unfortunately the website is behind a paywall. However a free account gets you 8 articles a month.
- The Economist – While no longer producing consistent quality, the majority of pieces are usually well written and researched.
- Bloomberg – Good for news about the US financial markets and some current events from a US perspective.
- The BBC – Some of the best news reporting left in the business.
- Spiegel – Quality extended articles from a German/European centric perspective.
- The Guardian – Another reputable news source with a global mindset and slight European bias.
- New York Times – Good for US-centric news from a relatively globally minded perspective.
- Al Jazeera – Some of the best news reporting out there at the moment. Slight middle-eastern bias.
- PhysOrg – Fantastic scientific news. A must read.
- In Focus – Poignant photos of current events.
- NPR – While famous for their radio coverage, NPR articles can also be quite excellent. Don’t overlook the NPR website for great interviews and news briefs.
- The Diplomat – News and commentary dedicated to Asia Pacific.
- Smithsonian – Excellent articles on a variety of topics.
- Scientific American – Articles on a wide mixture of scientific topics.
- National Geographic – More than just gorgeous photography. National Geographic offers insight into the world at large.
- The Council on Foreign Relations – Publisher of Foreign Affairs. Has additional material which is useful and relevant to the global environment.
- Reddit – A social news aggregator. While it has tons of photos of silly cats, you can subscribe to sub-reddits (topics) in areas you are passionate about. Good for discovering other news sources.
- TechCrunch – Technology plays an important role in our lives. As do new start-ups. TechCrunch blogs about both and is good to keep in mind for emerging trends.
- ArsTechnica - A quality mixture of technology news and commentary from around the web.
- Breaking News on Twitter – If you use twitter, find a breaking news feed you like and check it every few days.
Tools and Resources To Lighten the Load
Yikes, that’s a long list right? Heck, to read it all on a daily or even weekly basis would be a huge time drain. Let’s face it, most of us don’t have time for that, or the energy. If you did you wouldn’t have time to actually discuss any of the topics you’d have read with other real people!
Ultimately you’ll want to find the right mixture of tools that fit with the technology you have on hand and your lifestyle. Here are my favorites and what I find work well for me. I strongly suggest evaluating what spare time in your day-to-day schedule is currently being under-utilized. We all spend a fair amount of time waiting for friends and commuting. Getting in the habit of reading an article or two during that downtime instead of sitting bored, playing Angry Birds, or listening to a song can make a huge difference.
- Google Currents - I love this app for browsing a lot of the news sources listed above quickly and easily while on the go. I use it while on the bus, while waiting for food at a restaurant, or while relaxing during downtime. Currents is a simple, but powerful app for mobile devices.
- Pulse News – Very similar to Google Currents only slightly more streamlined and sexy in appearance. However, the back-end seems to be less able to pull aggregated feeds that combine a resource’s different types of content (eg; VirtualWayfarer’s posts, flickr, and youtube).
- Facebook - If you are a heavy Facebook user consider seeking out and liking the page for the news sources you like. Make sure to check settings and to share a post periodically so Facebook is reminded you want to see the latest news and articles embedded in your feed.
- iGoogle – While fading in influence, the first tab in my browser is always iGoogle. I have it configured to display the latest headlines from many of the sites listed above. That way I can browse for interesting articles quickly and easily.
Have The Discussions That Matter
This goes without saying but there are few better ways to learn and expand your perspective than to have active discussions on the things you’re reading and learning about. Remember that one of the most difficult and most rewarding skills you can develop is the ability to ask questions and to admit where you don’t know something. It’s something I struggle with on a daily basis, but something that really does make an incredible difference. Beyond asking the right questions, make sure to seek out individuals who share your interest and curiosity. To do this start sharing material and articles you find interesting. For many of you I think you’ll find that your friends and contacts are a wealth of unexpected knowledge in areas and fields you never would have expected or imagined.
Above all, fuel and nurture your curiosity. Good luck!
Do you have a favorite news or information source you highly recommend? Feel free to post it in the comments, just please make sure it’s something more stimulating and useful than MSNBC, Fox News, or the Onion.